Grace Lee Boggs was an American social activist who died at the age of 100 in 2015. Working primarily in Detroit, she fought for civil rights and social change for nearly 60 years. One simple quote of hers captures her hope for social change in this country:
“I don’t know what the next American Revolution is going to be like, but you might be able to imagine it, if your imagination were rich enough.”
I wonder if the biggest issue we face today is a lack of imagination. We get stuck in rigid patterns, thinking that there is only one way to approach any challenge. We divide everything into categories of in/out, right/wrong, saved/damned. We want the “right” way to worship, the “right” interpretation, the “right” theology, without realizing that this concern for “right-ness” limits the moving of God’s Spirit.
Scripture provides us a rich resource to inspire our imaginations. Here we have not one book but 66 books – 66 perspectives on living a God-filled life. These perspectives do not always agree, but that is the beauty, encouraging us to bring our different perspectives to bear upon issues of faith and life. But when we seek to force Scripture to speak with a single, rigid voice, we warp and distort its words.
As but one example, in Isaiah 2:10 and Micah 4:3, we hear the familiar vision: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Yet, in Joel 3:10, we hear the opposite: “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears.” We cannot make the two agree, nor should we. Different times call for different responses. What will our faithful response be in this age?
Here we have the record of how God’s people sought to listen and follow God’s voice throughout history, so that we might be inspired to listen and follow God’s voice in our own time. But when we think that what the God-filled life looked like 4,000 years ago should be how we live our lives now, we limit and restrict what the Spirit is trying to do with us.
Scripture itself shows that God’s Spirit moves differently in different times and places. In Acts 10, God challenges Peter with a vision of a tarp filled with unclean animals with the command, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter responds with his traditional understanding of the Law: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice from heaven responds: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:13-15) Peter will shortly learn that God is not speaking simply about food but about people as God calls him to bring the news about Jesus to the Roman centurion Cornelius.
This story illustrates that God acts differently in different times and places. We cannot limit the action of the Spirit to only one culture and only one time period. In every day and every age, we prayerfully and faithfully seek to follow God’s voice.
When we listen to the visions within Scripture, perhaps we might be inspired to imagine what God’s Kingdom might look like now.
Isaiah envisions peace as follows: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) As we dwell with that image, how does that vision call us to reconcile our differences? How does it call us to listen to our children? How does it call us to live in peace? Are our imaginations rich enough to embrace this vision and live into this vision?
John envisions the New Jerusalem with a river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God, with the tree of life producing fruit, “and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2) How does this vision call us to heal the nations? Are our imaginations rich enough to embrace this vision and live into this vision?
Robin D.G. Kelley, another social activist, said, “The most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling.”
My prayer is that we can let Scripture inspire us to envision a different way of seeing, a different way of feeling, a different way of living.